Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Long time, no see

I blame Facebook. And Twitter. And Whatsapp. Not to mention Cooking Fever and Candy Crush, both of which I've installed and deleted from my iPad more times than I can remember.

I blame them for distracting me from the things I actually enjoy. Reading books, reading about books, writing, travel, photography, blogging. Hmmm not quite sure about that last one. Do I really enjoy blogging? Do I enjoy wondering what to post on a dull day because I know I ought to? Do I like having it on my to do list along with cleaning the bathroom and booking a dentist's appointment? Probably not, if I'm honest. There's more to this though. What blogging does achieve is reminding me of all those favourite pastimes. It encourages me to do them. More than that it makes me pay attention to what I'm doing. And that's no bad thing.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Crossing the Bay

For more than fifty years Cedric Robinson, Queen's Guide to the Sands, has escorted walkers across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay.

We'd initially signed up to cross the bay in early August, but torrential rain had left the river channel too deep and dangerous to cross. Luckily the rescheduled date dawned bright and breezy. We left Arnside promenade at 4.30pm, a crowd of three hundred or more adults, children and assorted dogs to follow Cedric across the bay. I can survey the bay from my bedroom window but it was quite something to look back across the land from this different viewpoint. We spotted the Ashton memorial, Heysham power station and the clustered houses of Grange. A rainbow briefly coloured the view back towards Arnside.

The sand was mainly firm and the river channel deep, but not too deep, just lapping the hem of my shorts. The current was strong though. The bigger dogs swam bravely whilst the smaller dogs and children were carried across. The group trailed over half a mile or so at some points, resembling a biblical exodus. At one point a tractor sped over with horn blaring and driver shouting as a splinter group risked leading us all out into the open sea. After checking the sands, Cedric led us towards Kents Bank. Just as we approached the bank the sand turned distinctly spongy and it was easier to appreciate just how dangerous the sands can be.

Cedric Robinson is the 25th Guide of the Sands, the first being Thomas Hogeson who was appointed in 1548. The guide revives a nominal salary of £15 a year and the use of the 700 year old Guide's Cottage.

The sun was setting as the weary, hungry walkers reached Kent's Bank after an afternoon well spent.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


I've never been a huge fan of Sundays. As a kid Sundays were homework and housework days, the lets-get-everything-done-for-the-week-ahead kind of days. As a new graduate they were the deep-sinking-oh-no-I've-got-to-sell-phones-again-tomorrow kind of days.

Right now I'm sitting in a car park in Morecambe. I'm looking out onto graffitied garages and orange tiled roofs. Dried and grasses and thistles are rattling in the wind. Young boys jump from cars, slam doors and run over to their team mates. Whistles blow and parents huddle on the side of the pitch. Time to leave the warm bubble of my car and enjoy the action.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Pondling in Edinburgh

It was my daughter who spotted it amongst the wodge of flyers thrust into our hands on the short walk along the Royal Mile from our hotel to Caffe Nero.  Pondling. 'A story of love, beauty, chicken-chasing, daisy chains, cat-killing, French singing, ensuite bathrooms and a day at the pond.'

What followed was an hour of brilliance as we entered the hilarious but terrifying world of Madeleine, a young, highly imaginative girl with psychotic tendencies. With her My Little Pony bicycle and her Beanie Babies, Madeleine sought love and vengeance as the audience held its breath repeatedly and feared for those around her. 

Written and performed with great gusto by award-winning actress Genevieve Hulme-Beauman, this was definitely the highlight of my very first Edinburgh Fringe.

More about the Fringe next time.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Alive and kicking

A thoughtful comment from fellow blogger Alex and the resurrection of a much-loved on-line writers' group have inspired me to take up this blog again.

I'm sitting in my garden on what may be one of the last warm summer afternoons. My daughter's circling the trampoline in her special form of meditation. In a neighbouring garden a bossy girl shouts commands to her little brother. Bees explore the last of the runner bean flowers and the apples wait to be gathered from our trees.

In addition to the merry-go-round of work and family events over the last few months, there are a whole host of trips, books, meetings and ideas to share. Too much, in fact, to mention now, so I'll enjoy the sunshine for just a little longer and post again soon.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Morning bliss

My family having departed to their various activities, I find myself in the rare situation of being home alone on a Saturday morning.

So here I am, toasting myself by the fire in my leather armchair, reading, skimming the papers and pottering around the internet. The early morning storm has passed to leave a clear crystal morning seen so seldom since the New Year.

Life is good.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The book pelican

“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I'll be darned if I know how the hellican?”

I'm a real pelican when it comes to books. If I didn't buy another book for five years I would still have plenty to read. There are the gifts, the third choices on three for two offers, those passed on by friends and family, not to mention those impulse buys stimulated by blog reviews.  Amazon certainly has much to answer for.

So, scanning the shelves, it would make good sense to begin the year with some of my many acquisitions. There's plenty to choose from:

Haweswater by Sarah Hall - Having read The Carhullan Army and a collection of short stories, I admire Hall's writing. This book tells the story of the Lakeland village destined to be flooded as a new dam is built. It has the additional attraction of a (relatively) local setting.

The Ladies' Paradise by Zola - Germinal is one of my all time favourite reads with its awful but compelling evocation of miners' lives. I'm intrigued to see how the same author can then turn his skills to a Parisian department store. Then I made the mistake of watching an episode of the BBC adaption of The Paradise which very nearly put me off the book altogether.

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka - A group of migrant workers spend the summer strawberry picking in Kent.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan - the Mathematician and I are both  McEwan fans so I hope I'll be forgiven for adding this spy story to his Christmas list.

That's  more than enough to keep me going over the winter months. 

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year and the best intentions

I last posted back in August. Since then I have got a full-time job, visited Munich's Oktoberfest, attempted a MOOC on historical fiction and passed a Shakespeare exam.

The new year seems a good opportunity to get back on track with blogging. In contrast to the lull in this department, my reading has been ticking along nicely. Recent books include Donna Tartt's new novel The Goldfinch and The Winter  Ghosts by Kate Mosse. Now for something completely different I've chosen Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I've never read any Gaiman before, but I like what he says about writing in particular and life in general, so I'm happy to give him a go. I'm all for trying something new this year and books are no exception.

It feels good to be blogging again. Here's wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Pure by Andrew Miller

Paris, 1785. An ambitious young engineer is given the task of clearing the Cemetery of Les Innocents. What follows is a remarkable story.

With the help of a group of miners from Valenciennes, the organist from the cemetery's church, a local prostitute and the sexton's granddaughter, the engineer Baratte undertakes this remarkable feat of human endeavour. They excavate mass graves, discover mummified bodies and dismantle the church. The work is exhausting both physically and psychologically. There are other forces at work too. Mysterious graffiti links the engineer's work to growing political tensions in the capital. Change is afoot and not everyone likes it.

Miller takes the fact of the cemetery's clearance and creates a fiction that is horribly compelling. From the opening chapter in Versailles to the scene in the catacomb and the vigil in the church, there is no shortage of excitement. The book is more than a page-turner though. Life in Paris and conditions in the cemetery are vividly described with an almost cinematic effect. The impact of the work on the characters is interesting since superstitions and the power of the imagination play tricks on the mind. The threat of terrors, both real and imagined, is never far away.

Pure is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

Monday, 15 July 2013

On cockroaches

The roaches weren't my idea. 'But dad said I could,' my daughter informed me. Oh dear.

I have said no to a number of pets in my time. No to a dog, despite 'dog' mysteriously appearing on numerous Tesco shopping lists. No to a corn snake. No to lizards and even no to a wolverine. It's not that I have anything against pets per se. We do have two cats, one very old and skinny and another big fat tabby, but still the requests came. Sooner or later we had to give in. But Madagascan hissing cockroaches?

MHCs are not as easy to get hold of as one might imagine. In the end we settle for purchasing them from ebay. Ten of them. Various sizes. I just wish I'd said to the postman when I signed for the parcel 'Ah excellent! The cockroaches have arrived.'

It seems that cockroaches travel well by post and never has such tender loving care been lavished on such undesirable creatures. In fact, despite the protestations of friends and family, it turns out that they are rather...I was going to say cute but you might not believe me. Interesting then? MHCs grow to about 8cm in length, but only the adults 'hiss' by forcing air through spiracles on their abdomen. It turns out we have thirteen rather than ten. Or at least we think so. They are nocturnal and rather secretive so not the easiest creatures to count. They're not the easiest to tell apart either, making naming them rather problematic. We've settled for calling the smallest ones 'Jenkins'. Jenkins is the name given to the boy in any tale of mischief from The Mathematician's school. Medium-sized ones are known as BDB for reasons that only my son can explain. The largest one has already shed its skin and is known as 'Butterbean' for its astonishing whiteness in the first few hours after it moulted.

My daughter is away for a week at RAF camp on Anglesey so the roaches have already become our responsibility. I've had a couple of messages from her already. 'How are you?' she asks, but I know this is code for 'How are the roaches?' They are very well looked after, I tell her, with a choice selection of fish food and fresh fruit. I even bought a lettuce especially.

My daughter's hoping to breed them, so if you'd like a few just let us know. Don't all rush at once...

Isn't he/she handsome?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Squeezing the orange

I often turn on Radio 4 halfway through an interview and spend the rest of the programme trying to work out the identity of the interviewee. I had no such trouble when I heard the distinctive voice of Henry Blofeld. For those of you who don't know him, he's a cricket commentator on Test Match Special which I guess is one of those broadcasts you either love or hate. I can overcome my irrational northern dislike of plummy private school accents for Blofeld because I find him so entertaining. He can make interesting conversation out of nothing at all. It's a gift I wish I shared. Anyway, on this occasion he was talking about his philosophy of 'squeezing the orange', that is making the most of each and every day.

The Curate's Egg family have certainly been squeezing their oranges recently. Numerous cricket matches have taken us from Carlisle to the darkest depths of Lancashire. Add to this a swimming gala, a football tournament and a moonlight walk in aid of a local hospice and you start to get the idea. The Mathematician took his class on an outward bounds trip last week and sits his Open University maths exam this Thursday. I'm knackered just thinking about it all.

But there have been some relaxing times too. TM and I spent a weekend in Manchester where I abandoned clothes shopping in favour of books and photography - far more satisfying. The weather was glorious and gave the city a relaxed holiday atmosphere. We revisited some of our old student haunts, including the wonderful Sinclairs pub. It used to be in quite a grotty part of town, a grey nondescript square bordered by a supermarket, but is now a great place to be.

I had a go at some street photography. I love people watching and street photography seems a natural progression, but I'm never quite comfortable about snapping strangers. I took a few shots and then turned my attention to the architecture instead.

The Royal Exchange is one of my favourite Manchester buildings with its intriguing interior mixing the old and the modern. Although there is now a modern theatre 'in the round' inside the building, you can still see the old trading boards:

The sunlit stained glass was stunning.

On Sunday we visited the Manchester Art Gallery. The Gallery of Craft and Design was excellent. I particularly liked Andy Hazell's animated sculptures of domestic life:

I wanted to know what each character was thinking. Surely there must be a short story in there somewhere?

There's so much more I want to show and tell you. There are more photos to be edited and I haven't even begun on the books I've read, but cricket is calling. Unless I get a last-minute text from the Shireshead coach, we're aiming to fit in two cricket matches today so I'd better make that picnic.

This orange will be well and truly squeezed.

Long time, no see

I blame Facebook. And Twitter. And Whatsapp. Not to mention Cooking Fever and Candy Crush, both of which I've installed and deleted from...